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Heavenly Hainan> Beijing Review Archive> 1984
UPDATED: February 3, 2010 NO. 32 AUGUST 6, 1984
Hainan - A Treasure Island (5)

THE hardest nut to crack in opening Hainan Island to the world and exploiting its potential is the modernization of its transportation and communications. Without improvements in these areas, it will be difficult to implement the economic programmes proposed by Premier Zhao Ziyang at a meeting in the island capital of Haikou in January 1983 and set out two months later in a circular issued by the Party Central Committee and the State Council.

Although it takes a Boeing 747 a little more than two hours to cover the distance from Beijing to Guangzhou, which by aviation standards is only a stone's throw from Hainan, once in Guangzhou it is not so easy even to get a plane ticket to the island. Frequent bad weather creates a backlog of Hainan-bound passengers, and even after I finally laid my hands on a ticket, the control tower at Haikou airport radioed ahead that it would not grant the plane landing permission because of heavy rains. After two days of anxious waiting, during which I languished in a hotel, I eventually had to return the ticket and made do with a 400-kilometre bus ride from Guangzhou to Zhanjiang. From there I intended to continue by bus down the Leizhou peninsula and cross over to the island by ferry. Fortunately, the weather had cleared by the time I reached Zhanjiang and I could fly to my destination. In all, the journey from Beijing cost me one valuable week.

On my bus trip from Guangzhou to Zhanjiang, I came across many Hongkong and Macao businesspeople and foreigners. Most of them were on the road negotiating investments and sightseeing. The delays in getting to Hainan left them even more anxiety-ridden than myself. A Hongkong businesswoman told me her company was interested in pooling money to set up a clothing factory on Hainan because of the Chinese Government's preferential policy there. But the problems with local transportation disturbed her. She had been on Hainan a couple of times to survey the situation and sign contracts and each time had been stranded by poor transportation. Once she had trouble getting on to the island; the other time she had trouble getting off. The same plane delay that stranded me in Guangzhou for several days had affected her, too. She had called Hongkong to ask permission to cancel the trip and finally made it only because the company insisted that she go on.

In the island capital of Hainan, a clerk at a travel agency told me up to one-third of potential tourists are scared off by reports of transportation delays caused by bad weather. Because Haikou airport is outdated and poorly equipped, the flight path from Guangzhou to the island is often clogged up. Travelling by sea takes 24 hours, not to mention delays brought on by fogs and typhoons. The bus trip via Zhanjiang and the Leizhou peninsula is even time- and energy-consuming. While the rest of the world has been made smaller by fast jets, poor transportation on the island makes short distance seem longer. This is the major bottleneck crippling the exploitation and development of the Hainan Island.

Hardly had I got to Haikou, when I heard of the news that the local airport would be closed in a few days. There was a plan to lengthen the runways and install new guidance equipment. The plan has been put off several times in the past but this time it was for real and the airport was closed before I left the island. A military airfield 100 kilometres away was opened to civilian planes shuttling to and from Guangzhou and Zhanjiang. Although this has caused passengers some inconveniences, it is nevertheless the first step in a far-reaching plan. When opened again early next year, Haikou airport will be able to accommodate jumbo jets and offer express flights to Hongkong, a route less affected by weather. Meantime, another airport in Sanya at the southern end of the island will soon open to the world.

An important measure to be adopted to improve Hainan's transportation facilities is the construction and expansion of ports. One day at the end of March, I drove to Danzhou Bay at the northwest end of the island, where according to the short-term construction blueprint for Hainan, Yangpu, the island's biggest modern harbour will be built. Viewed from the air, Danzhou Bay looks like a boot kicked into the island. Outside the bay billows crash upon the shore, while inside the sea is calm. There are plans to construct one deepwater harbour and one regular harbour at the mouth of the bay, which used to be a haven for fishing boats and cargo ships in the typhoon season. The bay averages 11 metres deep and the deepest point is 26 metres. Because the narrow mouth speeds up the outflow of water, silt rarely builds up in the bay. The existing dozen metres of silt date back from several centuries ago.

Last year, the Party Central Committee and the State Council proposed that Hainan Island's deep-water harbour should be exploited as part of opening to the world. Specialists, professors and scholars, as well as entrepreneurs from the United States, Japan and Australia, came to inspect the site. leaving with the common conclusion that it was indeed an ideal natural harbour and should have been exploited long ago. In the future most of the oil from the Yinggehai Oilfield will move through the harbour to the island to be processed. Grain imports will also be handled here. Salt, iron ore and other products from the island will find their way out through the harbour as well. Many foreign businesses have asked to build warehouses and factories there.

Beginning last October, the deep-water harbour of Yangpu underwent hydrological, topographical and geomorphological surveys. Geological exploration was conducted and investigation was made into economic results. Earthquake vulerability was also surveyed and discussed. The project has now entered the data sorting and designing stage. Ground is expected to be broken in the second half of next year. In the firstphase of construction, five berths - three for 10,000-ton vessels and two for 5,000-ton vessels - will be built. They are expected to go into operation at the end of 1988 or the beginning of 1989.

There is a narrow strip of land jutting into the sea three kilometres, which serves as a natural breakwater. To have built the same thing by hand would have equalled the cost of building a new harbour from scratch, said the deputy director of the harbour construction preparatory office. The office workers have planted trees on the natural mole to strengthen it against waves and wind.

The Songtao Reservoir in the south of the island, with a storage stratum 40 metres deep, guarantees fresh water for the large harbour, docking ships, workers and residents and future factories.

Nor is a supply of electricity a problem. Power lines extend from the Songtao hydroelectric station to the harbour area, and the Changpo thermal power plant is nearing completion. There are at present two highways leading into the island and they will be widened in the future. A round-the-island railway will soon reach here. When construction starts, building materials will be ferried the 600 metres across the bay to the harbour sites.

The region around the Yangpu harbour is an important fishing centre. Two-storey cottages along the beach house fishermen and their families. Under the trees near the beach is the free market, where fishwives buy and sell fish, crabs and grain. The deputy director said that the local people are enthusiastic about the harbour construction. When the surveyors first arrived, they were put up by the locals. Young Danzhou residents who could speak mandarin Chinese volunteered as interpreters and guides. Even though the construction site encroached upon their farmland, they lodged no complaints. Everywhere on the streets of the village, one can see stone slabs and blocks carved from igneous rocks for future house-building. But to avoid having to dismantle new houses in the future as the harbour area expands, the local people have stopped building altogether at the government's request, and are selling these building materials to the state instead.

One evening, as the sun set, illuminating the horizon, the sea and tiny home-bound sails, the deputy director and I sat on the beach to study the map of the harbour. We were soon surrounded by a troop of playing children. They pressed near and squeezed each other, giggling and whispering, jabbing and mocking one another. The deputy director, who had been a teacher and principal of a middle school for 20 years, beamed: "Look how simple, how enthusiastic, these children are. In effect, when the harbour is completed, they will have to move away. But they still welcome the coming changes. And they will in time become builders of the new civilization."

The island authorities will expand Haikou, Qinglan and Basuo harbours in addition to Yangpu. Existing highways will be improved and more bridges built. The railway will extend from Lingtou to Basuo, stretching to Haikou and completing the network along the southern, western and northern sides of the island. Microwave communications will be established between Haikou and Guangzhou and automatic telephones will be installed in Haikou.

In 1955, General Secretary Hu Yaobang visited Hainan, at which time he named it "treasure island." In February 1983, he returned. This time he said the island had made great headway in its construction, thanks to the great efforts made by its people.

"But the local people are far from satisfied with the status quo," Hu said. "The island has its strengths and weaknesses, the weaknesses stemming from the island's isolation, from being cut off from the mainland and the world. This has hamstrung an economic takeoff. Therefore the first step in opening to the world should be the promotion of economic exploitation, which in turn would promote opening to the world. The two are inseparable and complement each other, each being the condition for the other's development."

In the future, the Hainan Island will have developed land, sea and air transportation and convenient home and international communications. This will be an important boost for its economic takeoff.

(To be continued)

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